BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Homecoming of Samuel LakeJenny Wingfield seems to be a bit of serial first-hit wonder. That’s actually not a judgment but an observation: her first film she wrote, The Man in the Moon, was glorified by the late Roger Ebert, gave Reese Witherspoon her screen debut, and was the last film the legendary Robert Mulligan (To Kill a MockingbirdSummer of ’42) ever directed; this, her first (and so far only) book remains a highly-rated, all-around reader favorite.

My oldest-friend-in-the-world’s mother – with whom I gleefully share similar literary preferences – recommended Samuel when it debuted, and of course I realize now that I should have clicked ‘play’ sooner! For others who might go audible, rest assured that narrator Catherine Taber floats effortlessly, but no less effectively, between youthful innocence and adult terror.

Samuel Lake is like that – seamlessly moving between extremes in 1950s rural Arkansas, where the Moseses and the Lakes have intertwined into a single sprawling family since the marriage of Willadee Moses and Samuel Lake. The annual reunion which always begins the first Sunday in June extends indefinitely when the good Reverend Lake doesn’t get assigned a new congregation by the Methodist powers-that-be. Untethered from the spiritual world, the prodigal Lake family is unexpectedly home to stay.

In a spectacular act of self-violence, patriarch John Moses is dead, and his bereaved wife Calla just hopes their daughter Willadee won’t make the same relational mistakes she did. Calla’s World War II veteran son Toy – a powerful man so different from his ironic nickname – is blinded by his unrequited adoration for his wife Bernice who still pines for her true love Samuel, who only has eyes for his feisty wife Willadee. Meanwhile, over at the farm next door, Ras Ballenger is busy terrorizing and abusing his family; protecting the oldest Ballenger son, Blade, becomes the Lakes’ middle-child Swan’s life mission, even at the cost of her own safety.

Seen mainly through the perspective of 11-year-old Swan (yes, Swan Lake really is her name!), the extended-family saga proves to be an un-put-down-able epic, thriller, mystery, tragedy, coming-of-age multi-generational tear-jerker all in one. Pass the Kleenex already!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011

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